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Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Hines Ward Accused of 57 Ways of Fraud.

Wednesday September 19, 2007
From The Pittsburgh Tribune Review
By Bobby Kerlik

Steelers' Ward, associate accused of taking money

A business associate of Hines Ward has accused the Steelers receiver and another associate, who together own a South Side bar, of removing money from the business and insurance fraud.

Ward owns the Locker Room Bar & Grille, which opened in December 2005 on East Carson Street, along with Kimberly Pitts and Nicholas Lettieri.

Court documents reveal an ugly legal battle over the bar's bank accounts, accounting books and insurance claims between the owners.

Specifically, Lettieri leveled accusations in court documents that Pitts, her husband, Korry Pitts, and Ward failed to deposit cash receipts into the company accounts and have diverted the funds to their own personal bank accounts. Lettieri states that despite profits of more than $1 million and insurance money of $500,000, the company's bank accounts totaled less than $19,000 as of last week.

He also claims that Pitts, her husband, and Ward created false invoices to defraud the business of insurance proceeds of $300,000.

"We don't know where the money went," said Lettieri's attorney, Bruce Fox. "There's been a lot of money drained from the business."

Attorney Thomas Castello, who represents the business, called the allegations, "baseless, ridiculous and unfounded."

Attorney David Slomski, who was hired to represent Kimberly Pitts and Ward, could not be reached for comment.

Ward and several Steelers are known to frequent the bar, and some have tended bar on occasion.

Castello said profits from the bar never came anywhere close to those totals and that Lettieri was a part of the process to submit insurance claims after a February incident in which a boiler malfunctioned and flooded the bar. He also said the bar was closed until June, while repairs were made.

Castello said the insurance company also inspected the premises. The carrier, RCA Insurance, could not be reached for comment.

The court battle began last week when Castello filed a lawsuit on behalf of the company against Lettieri. In that complaint, the company accused Lettieri of withdrawing all of the company's funds -- about $19,000 -- on Sept. 11, causing the business to bounce checks, and miss payroll and tax payments.

Fox said the business owes Lettieri more than $100,000 from profits and that Lettieri withdrew the money because it's part of what he's owed.

Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Christine Ward on Monday ordered Lettieri to return the $19,000. She also ordered that the Locker Room open its business records to Lettieri, something his attorney said was being denied.

A hearing on the case is set for Thursday.

Fox said he does not know to what extent Ward was involved in the financial mess. He said he believes Korry Pitts, whom he described as a business associate of Ward, deposited the money into a personal account.

Court records show Korry Pitts was sentenced to 30 months in prison in 1997 after pleading guilty to a federal charge of conspiracy to distribute narcotics. County court records show Korry and Kimberly Pitts recently bought a $360,000 Franklin Park home in April.

Bobby Kerlik can be reached at bkerlik@tribweb.com or 412-391-0927.

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